Leadership lessons from a local on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

Cabramatta is a cultural hub, busy and full of life. In October I took part in the GLP’s Cultural Day of the suburb to hear from local residents and organisations that work in the community, discover the cultural landmarks and sample some of the South East Asian food! It was an amazing experience and hearing some of the hardships encountered by residents was truly inspiring. From the perspective of a nineteen year old, growing up in a world where everything is in arms reach and there are so many opportunities, we tend to lose touch of how lucky we are. Hearing the diverse stories and hardships of some of the Cabramatta Cultural Day speakers instilled an appreciation for the day to day luxuries that others do not have.


Students on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

During our day we were lucky to meet with Jenny, an immigrant with the most amazing story! Jenny lived through and survived the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. From 1975 to 1979, the communist Khmer Rouge movement evacuated Phnom Penh’s 2.5 million residents. Former civil servants, doctors, teachers and other professionals were stripped of their possessions and forced to toil in the fields as part of a re-education process. Those that complained about the work, concealed their rations or broke rules were usually tortured in detention centres, such as the infamous S-21, and then killed. The bones of people who died from malnutrition or inadequate healthcare filled up mass graves across the country. An estimated 1.5 million people died or were killed during the regime.

Under Pol Pot, the state controlled all aspects of a person’s life. Money, private property, jewelry, gambling and most reading material and religion were outlawed. Agriculture was collectivized, children were taken from their homes and forced into the military and strict rules governing sexual relations, vocabulary and clothing were laid down.

Jenny, who speaks five different languages, came from an educated, wealthy family. Jenny spoke of how they were all stripped of their possessions and marched down to work in a field where she ended up staying for the three years of the Pol Pot regime. Education was not valued and if you had it, you would ‘disappear’ as she put it. For three years, Jenny kept quiet and did not speak to anyone out of fear she would lose her life. She spoke of how she lost 10 family members during this time. Luckily, Jenny escaped Cambodia with her family in the 1970s.


Jenny Tew speaking to students on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

Although she was free from the atrocities in Cambodia, she was not yet completely free. Jenny, her mother and two siblings were taken to a refugee camp. Fortunately, Jenny’s father had encouraged her to learn English and she used her skills to assist fellow refugees with interpreting in the camp. The UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), arranged for Jenny and her family to be placed in Germany.  However, Jenny’s mother was unhappy with this decision, as she and the family were unable to speak German and would likely have to work in an industrial factory. It was through Jenny’s determination and perseverance that the family migrated to Australia in 1981. Jenny approached a visiting Australian diplomat in the camp and negotiated for the move to Australia.

Jenny’s strength and courage combined with her will to carry on brought her great success in Australia. She has two sons, who are in successful careers, one even studies at Macquarie! Since her first role as an interpreter in healthcare in Australia, Jenny has worked seven days a week, 365 days a year to build two successful businesses. She is currently an education and migration agent, supporting international students and immigrants as they establish themselves in Australia, and also has a shop in Cabramatta, which sells her amazing “bum pants”- a creation of Jenny’s that give women curves in the right places! She was also one of the first women to sell Shiseido make up in Australia!  She is an example of triumph, embodies the true Australian values and is an outstanding leader.

Cabramatta 2

Freedom Gate in Cabramatta, which is opposite Jenny’s shop

In 2012, Jenny was recognised as a People of Australia Ambassador for her endless work in her community to make sure everyone fits in and is doing well. You can find her vibrant little store on the corner right opposite Freedom Plaza in Cabramatta. It is absolutely worth a look!

I feel that as a young person, Jenny is such an inspiring person to look up to. She has so much strength and determination! She is what it means to be a Global Leader, she has taken every hardship she has endured and has the courage and power to help others and to share her story with us to inspire and teach cross cultural understanding and empathy.


‘Pol Pot’, 2009, History.com, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot.

*By Jacinta Harmer

Jacinta is studying a Bachelor of Law, majoring in Criminology. Next year Jacinta is deferring her degree at Macquarie to join the Navy.

The Cultural Day Series is an opportunity to develop your communication and leadership skills in Sydney’s multicultural hubs through briefings with local organisations and residents, a walking tour and a “Scavenger hunt” with other GLP delegates. The GLP runs two Cultural Days a Session. Keep an eye out on our Facebook group and your student email for details on the first Cultural Day of 2016!


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